Everyone thinks they want to work from home, but it can be harder to stay productive than you think. The dog gets sick and then your neighbor — who is inexplicably also home — starts making enough racket to wake the dead.
While many think that working from home is all luxury, it’s actually a pretty hard slog. Sure, it’s great to skip the frantic morning scramble and that dreadful commute, but it can be hard to stay focused when it really matters.
In the office, your co-workers might provide a bit of a distraction, but at home you are your own worst enemy.
When you’re not surrounded by people holding you accountable, you feel like you can drop your inhibitions and with them — your to-do list. Without the system of peer pressure that an external work situation provides, we don’t necessarily feel the obligations that lead to productivity in a “normal” 9 to 5.
By using these tricks, you can get more productive at home. Get out of those pajamas and into some better habits with these 20 critical skills from successful freelancers.
The 20 Best Ways to Stay Productive When Working from Home
1. Get up early.
When working in a normal external office, you have to wake up early to get yourself ready for the day and tackle that morning commute. By the time you get to your desk (which could be hours later) you feel awake, alert and (generally) ready to start your day.
When you only have to make that transition from pillow to desk, however, the situation can be a lot more jarring.
Don’t drag it out when working from home. Dive into that to-do list as soon as you get up, starting on your need-to-tackle projects as soon as you wake up. The key to making progress is not only to get an early start, though, it’s to work on the projects throughout the day.
If you want to be more productive in your home work setup, then stop prolonging breakfast. Get a move on and get that motivation boost you need by getting started early.
2. Keep the TV on in the background.
This might seem counterintuitive, but having the TV on in the background (at a low volume) can be a great way to help you get the office experience and stay focused.
Program your television to The History Channel or put on a doc you’re not that interested in on Netflix. Set the TV to a low volume and position yourself somewhere where you can still hear the set but won’t be tempted to watch. You’ll find yourself working away in no time.
3. Pretend you’re still going into the office.
Treat your day as if it were no different than any other traditional 9–5.
The mental association we make between work and our home office space can actually make us more productive. When you’re working from home, do all the things you would normally do to prepare for a day at the office.
Set your alarm and wake up early. Once you’re up, brush your teeth or make that cup of coffee. Get dressed, put on some nice clothes and sit down at your desk promptly and ready to go — just like you would in any other office.
You’ll notice that by treating your home work the same as traditional work, your brain will transition faster into “work mode”. Going through these pre-work ceremonies allow us to get into the right state of mind to not only get productive, but to stay productive as well.
4. Keep the office structure.
If you haven’t figured it out already, the more you can create a home environment that’s like a real office environment, the more productive and successful you will be when it comes to working from home.
You’re your own personal manager when it comes to telecommuting or freelancing. It’s you who schedules your day and it’s you who manages how things get done.
To stay on schedule, segment your day like you would in the office. Use your calendar to create events and reminders that tell you when to shift gears and switch tasks. Take time for lunch and a few minutes here and there when you need to give your eyes a break.
If you’re not already onboard with a little thing called Google Calendar — get acquainted! This tool makes it easy to plan your working day and will help you boost your productivity substantially.
5. Create a dedicated work space.
You might not be working in the home office, but you still need a dedicated work space.
Instead of cooping yourself up in your bedroom or on the couch, try to create an actual work space that you only use for work. This space doesn’t need to be a room and it doesn’t need to be large. It simply needs to be a place where you can sit (without interruption) and work consistently, separate from the personal things that can be so distracting.
Spaces that are associated with leisure time set us up for failure by presenting distraction. Our brains struggle to focus when they just want to chill. When we create a dedicated space for our work, we give our brains the opportunity to focus and train in on the things that need to be done.
Create a dedicated work space in your home if you really want to tap into that productivity line.
6. Remember: You don’t always have to stay at home.
Now that I’ve lectured you on creating a dedicated workspace, it’s time to really blow your mind.
If your home office just isn’t working for you then you can get out of the house!
Coffee shops, libraries and public lounges with wifi can be great places to get work done if you can’t seem to focus at home. While this technique doesn’t work for everyone, some of these spaces can be just the kind of energy you need to stimulate your work brain and boost your productivity.
If you’re the kind of person that loves the energy of the office, then try getting out of the house when you get stuck in that in-home rut. You don’t have to sit in an official workplace and suffer under fluorescent lights. Get out and try working somewhere new instead.
7. Kick social media to the curb.
Social media is great for opening and browsing quickly. The problem is, a five minute browse never ends up being a quick, 5-minute browse, does it?
Counteract you social media addiction during work hours by making it more difficult to log-on to the platforms that are the most distracting.
Remove your social media links from your browser shortcuts and log out of every single account. If you’re using Chrome, go “Incognito” to ensure you really stay out of trouble.
If you’re still tempted to get back on to Facebook or Twitter or one of the other plethora of tempting options, opt for a program like Freedom which blocks you from accessing certain internet sites for pre-set periods of time.
8. Do more.
If you’re someone who becomes inspired by a lengthy to-do list, then make yourself more productive by committing to do more in a day.
The tasks we set ourselves always take longer than expected. Since that’s the case, we usually get done less than we set out to do originally.
So, to encourage yourself to get through the tasks and conquer the day, try overestimating how much you can get done in the day. Even if you come up short of your goal, set yourself a few extra tasks and work extra hard to complete them all.
9. Recognize your most productive times.
While you might be waking up early to get your work started, that doesn’t mean you can be in an all out sprint until 6 p.m.
Your motivation (and your productivity) are going to ebb and flow throughout the day. That’s alright! What’s important is that you start to recognize these ebbs and flows and when and how they take place.
Capitalize on your most productive periods by saving your harder tasks for the times when you know you’ll be in the right mindset to conquer them. Use those down-points in the day to take a break, or knock out those little tasks that are annoying or relatively inconsequential.
Nobody works full-on from sunup to sundown. And you won’t be able to either. Set yourself up for success by getting to know your working style.
10. Put the phone on silent until the afternoon.
Morning can be rough. Some mornings, I’m so tired that I don’t even want to look out of the bedroom window, let alone think about talking to another human being.
You may have to get started on the work as soon as you get up in the morning, but you don’t have to get started with the people.
If you’re someone who struggles with your morning work schedule, put those phone calls and virtual meetings on hold until the afternoon. Start your day with solitary tasks instead and save all the social stuff until your really going and ready to deal with collaborative work.
11. Deal with one distraction at a time.
Instead of trying to deal with everything at once, try dealing with the distractions one at a time.
When something comes up that threatens to throw you off course, take a second and deal with it then instead of waiting for it to come up again later.
By getting in front of the things that interrupt our work, we ensure that we can make the time up later which gives a certain feeling of calm and control.
Prioritize the things that matter and don’t be afraid to leave the little things until the end of the day. When you take the battles one by one, instead of facing them all at once, you can break them down into bite-sized pieces that don’t have the power to completely wreck your day.
12. Make a work plan ahead of time.
Don’t sit down and make a work plan the day-of, make your work plans ahead of time instead.
Spending time trying to figure out what you’ll be doing that day is a huge waste of time and can take away from the time-critical things you actually need to get done. When your task list is that recent, it also becomes tempting to change things around or switch your schedule up on the fly.
You agenda can change if it needs to, but try to make a plan of attack ahead of time when it comes to work. Commit to an agenda that outlines each assignment for the day before you begin. If you can, solidify your schedule the day before which will make it feel more official and help you to remain relaxed and focused when you get up and get started.
13. Technology is your friend. Use it.
Working from home is great, but it can make you feel cut off from the bigger spread of life as well.
Instant messaging and video conference tools are a great way to stay connected and maintain the feeling of being in the office — with none of the stress. If you work for a larger company, look into checking in with co-workers to remind yourself that your work is a contribution to a bigger picture.
If you’re a freelancer or going it solo on the work front, there are a lot of opportunities for keeping yourself connected. You can use your computer or phone to find all kinds of meet-ups and professional networking opportunities, including creative breakfasts, freelancer hang-outs and more. You can find everything from social to professional opportunities using great sites like Eventbrite.com.
14. Set yourself a soundtrack.
At work, music playlists are the soundtrack to our careers.
Music that matches the energy of the project we’re working on does wonders for boosting our mood and our productivity. Lyric-free music is especially good for focusing, but any music that helps you feel good is a solid choice too.
If you’re powering through your inbox, try some intense or catchy rap/R&B beats. If you’re writing, try something a little more subtle. (May I recommend Epic Soundtracks?)
Finding the music that motivates you can allow to focus differently on different tasks, which is the key to success when it comes to tackling an array of projects.
15. Time yourself with laundry.
Hear me out: laundry can be a great way to time yourself and be productive.
Just like songs can be a great way to time our walks or our tasks, laundry can be a great tool when it comes to timing work tasks efficiently.
Doing your laundry is a built-in timer. Use this timer to start and finish something from your to-do list before you switch loads. When you to commit to finishing one assignment within this (relatively) narrow window, you’ll be training yourself to work smarter on tasks that you might normally dawdle on in the traditional context.
Don’t take all day to tinker when you could wrap it up in a quarter of the time. Use your piles of to-do laundry to tackle that to-do list.
16. Make sure everyone home knows what’s up.
If you’re working from home, chances are there will be people there are some point.
Make sure that any roommates, siblings, parents, spouses and (older) children know what you’re doing and what’s expected from them when you’re working.
If you have a separate work space, make sure they know that that workspace is not to be disrespected during your working hours. Let them know what your working hours are (in advance) and let them know what you need from them during that time.
Communication is key to making a home working situation successful when others are involved. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you are home. Interruptions during your working hours are just as detrimental as interruptions at the office, so let your loved ones know what’s needed up front.
17. TAKE BREAKS.
I can’t stress this enough: just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you don’t need breaks.
It can be easy to get distracted as a telecommuter, but breaks are still necessary throughout the working day. Don’t let the guilt of being able to sleep trick you into overwork and burnout. Take five to relax throughout the day and if you feel overwhelmed don’t be afraid to take a step back.
Don’t just spend that time watching Youtube or scrolling Facebook, however. Take your time away from the computer to get outside instead or spend some time with others so you don’t feel isolated.
18. Remember to be social.
When you work from home it can often feel like you’re working from the moon.
Don’t forget to interact with other people and stay social with people in your personal and professional life. You can interact with people throughout the day and they don’t always have to be coworkers either. Seeing other faces throughout the day is good, and can be a great way to keep our moods boosted and our motivations high.
If your work life is solitary, reach out to friends and family throughout the day. You don’t want to waste too much time, but reach out if you’re feeling down or starting to feel the midday slump. Hearing another is sometimes the perfect pick-me-up we need to keep going and conquer the day.
19. Practice some meal prep.
Freelancers and telecommuters love to procrastinate with a good meal.
When we’re at home, it’s easy to be tempted to go Martha Stewart on our lunch, (brunch), and breakfast options. However, before you know it, you’ve spent your morning chopping and popping and nothing has gotten done.
Don’t use precious minutes of your already too-busy day by making your food the day of work. If you want to have a boujie lunch — that’s fine — but cook it the night before.
Preparing your food ahead of time ensures that you can actually use your lunch time for lunch, and will make sure that you aren’t performing non-productive tasks that waste your already-needed energy.
Spend your time smarter by preparing ahead of time. That’s not just a key to success in home work. That’s a key to success in life.
20. Closing time.
If you work from home, you might be under the impression that you’ll have some magically apparating work-life balance fairy that will appear and make everything work out okay.
Sorry to break it to you, but that’s just not the case.
Working from home is a bit like a casino. You get caught up in one activity and it can become all-consuming. Before you know it, you look up and it’s nighttime. You’ve lost track of time. The day is gone. What happened?
Set yourself a quitting time and stick to it.
Get on your iPhone or your Android and set an alarm to trigger for the end of the day. Let this indicate to you (and your brain) that the normal working day is coming to an end.
You don’t have to stop exactly at the time the alarm goes off. Give yourself 15–20 minutes of buffer to wrap up whatever it is you’re working on, and if you have the time, take a few minutes to make a plan for the next day.
Knowing the working day is technically over will help you start the process of saving your work and will let your mind call it quits for the day. When you make this slow type of ending, you’re training your brain to relax, which will allow it to come back more focused the next day and ready to tackle things.
Appreciate your work life spread and honor the quitting time buzz of your alarm. Your sanity will thank you.
Putting it all together…
While wearing sweatpants to work and setting your own hours (kind of) might seem like the coolest thing ever, working from home can be challenging.
It can be hard to stay focused when you’re on the couch and not in an office, and there’s not always a helping hand there when you need to stay on-track and in the zone. However, by practicing a few basic and common sense habits, you can make this process easier, healthier and way more productive, it just takes a little elbow grease and long-term commitment.
If working from home is challenging you, don’t give up. Get up early and treat your work as seriously and professionally as you would an office position. Get dressed and go through your routines, making sure to take plenty of time for breaks and chats with friends and coworkers when needed. If mornings are a struggle for you, prep you work the night before and don’t be afraid to get in the kitchen to prep your meals for the day too. Time your tasks and don’t be afraid to over achieve and at the end of the day call it quits for real so the lines don’t blur between your work life and your personal one.
Working from home can be a gift, so take the time to appreciate it for the millions of benefits it offers. After all, it’s not every day you get to sit in your pants and enter those plans for snagging that big account…
Or maybe it is. I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Get out of that morning funk and into a more productive day with these easy tweaks. by E.B. Johnson It can be hard to get the day going and doubly hard when it’s the start of the week. You wake up in a comfy bed and face a day of stress and pressure.